Sunday, April 09, 2006

by Fabio Scarpello, ADN Kronos International

Manila, 4 April (AKI) - Philippines president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a week-long state of emergency in February to stop an alleged military coup. While tension and emergency restrictions have since eased, writer and historian Renato Redentor Constantino believes that the Philippines is still under de-facto martial law. In an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI) Constantino, who lives in Manila, denounced continuing attacks by the Filipino government against leftist politicians and the media.

"Repressive measures continue," Constantino told AKI. "One congressman is still in prison although the judges ordered his release. Five more congressmen took refuge in the Congress," said the author. His latest book launched in March, "The Poverty of Memory: Essays on History and Empire", provides a critical and concise analysis of the history of the Philippines.

The jailed politician Constantino refers to is Crispin Beltran, a representative of the leftist party, Anakpawis. Beltran was arrested on 25 February, the day after the state of emergency was declared by Philippines president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The state of emergency, which lasted a week, was justified by the president as a preventive measure against an alleged coup plot organized against her by a coalition of leftist and rightist elements as well as the armed forces.

Beltran was accused of being part of the plot and is still in jail even though a judge ordered his release on 12 March. He was due to appear in court on Monday, but the arraignment was postponed after his lawyers filed a motion to quash the sedition charges against him. Reports say he will remain in police custody for another month.

"The police excuse is that there is a charge against him dating back to the time of Marcos," said Constantino. Marcos was removed from power by the "people power" movements in February 1986.

Besides Beltran, another five members of congress, all representatives of the left wing parties, have been accused of involvement in the alleged coup.

The five - Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casino, and Joel Virador of the Bayan Muna party, Liza Maza, a representative of the Gabriela party, and Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis - have up until now resisted arrest by taking refuge in the building of the House of Representatives.

Known collectively as the "Batasan 5", the name of building where they have taken refuge, the five members of Congress, left for the first time, for a few hours, on 23 March, when they appeared in front of a court to hear the accusations of rebellion presented against them.

Besides politicians, the media have also been targeted and according to Constantino, the media are in a precarious situation and under attack on two fronts. He particularly highlighted the case of The Daily Tribune, a pro-opposition publication, which was temporarily shut down during the seven days of the state of emergency. Even if the government has more or less said that it will not force the closure of other newspapers, the pressure and the threats continue.

"What they did to the Tribune is extremely serious," said Constantino. "You can say that I will not shoot again but the first bullet has been fired and the damage is done," said Constantino.

President Arroyo has explicitly called on the media for "restrain" and the police, recently requested the authorization for an incursion into the offices of the "Philippines Centre for Investigative Journalism", an organization of independent journalists known for many investigative reports particularly on the subject of corruption. The permission was denied by two judges but the request increased the anxiety in media in Manila.

"The government is encouraging self-censorship," said Constantino. "All of this while the Philippines have the world's highest rate of journalists murdered. Killed by warlords or politicians or whoever else - but the bottom line is that it is done with impunity," he said.

According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Graciano Aquino, a journalist from the Central Luzon Forum who died on 21 January is the second and up until now, the last journalist killed in 2006 in the Philippines.

2005 was a particularly violent year for the Philippines media, with 12 journalists killed. Since the fall of Marcos in 1986, 77 members of the media have been killed. Since president Arroyo came to power in January 2001, a total of 41 journalists have been assassinated. #

Click here for Fabio Scarpello's website.
Photo by Abi Jabines, 2006
View original AKI story here.


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